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The Mental Health Taboo: A fear forged by history Features 

The Mental Health Taboo: A fear forged by history

The taboo of mental health is one of the biggest obstacles that need to be overcome in our society. People often find themselves ashamed to suffer from a mental illness and to reach out for help, which only carries out the stigma. This association of shame with mental health originates from the first interpretations of mental disorders.


Historically, mental illness was often a synonym of possession in a religious context, and the “cure” to that was an exorcism. It was also viewed as a divine punishment, where confessions could dissolve your sins and save you from illness.

At the beginning of the 17th century, the first asylums were founded. Though mental asylums are the ancestors of modern psychiatric hospitals, their purposes differed greatly. Mental asylums were put in place in an attempt to cast out the mentally ill from society rather than offer them help and healing. 

The excuse of “mental illness” was also thrown in any situation in which a woman was too vocal about social issues. Hysteria, an “exclusively female disease”, was a weapon used to silence women that dared to demand equal rights or express their disagreement with a man. The cures for this pseudo-disease ranged from purification with fire to abstinence; each solution, more unethical than the other. These historical views of mental illness created a stigma around mental illness. No one would dare to ask for help because the solutions were dreadful. Even with the advances in modern psychiatry, this fear lingered on.

It is our responsibility, as a society, to attempt to break this taboo because it is more common than we think. According to the World Health Organisation, 25% of the world population will be affected by a mental or neurological disorder, 2/3rds of which will never seek any help. The first step to breaking the taboo is to talk about it and share our experiences. There is no shame in wanting to take care of your mental health. Mental illness is not a defeat, but rather one of the many obstacles we encounter in life. Therapy is a useful tool, one that you should not be afraid to use. This is how we get rid of the stigma, together.

If you are ready to take your first step, here is a link that compiles plenty of free resources that range from help hotlines to online therapy:


By Meriem Terzi

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